Touting a conference best 15-7 regular season record, Swarthmore’s male Ultimate team — the Earthworms — is eager to begin post-season play this Saturday at Franklin & Marshall. Playoff play is comprised of three stages: Conferences, Regionals, and Nationals. This weekend, the Earthworms will compete in Conferences, where they will face off against other teams in their conference — Haverford, F&M, Muhlenberg, and Scranton to name a few. If they are successful, they will advance to Regionals, which will take place in Ohio two weeks from now. There they would play some of the top teams in the country, including the Franciscan Fatal, last year’s national champions.
The Earthworms are also coming off of a very successful 2015 season, in which they both made Regionals and achieved their best overall record in seven years. In spite of this success, captain Joe Corcoran ’16 is confident that this year’s team is even stronger.
“We have a tight core of seniors and juniors who have literally played several thousand of points together over the past three years as well as a talented and energetic group of underclassmen. The team looks better than it has in my four years and also communicates better on and off the field. The Earthworms are looking more fit, more skilled, and more ready to compete than they have any year since the last time we made Nationals,” commented Corcoran.
In addition to possessing a lot of raw talent, the team’s work ethic is impressive for a non-varsity sport. Players take ultimate seriously, practicing four days a week for two hours at a time — not counting supplementary fitness outside of scheduled practices. The team is also benefitting from the addition of Ben Nye ’12, a Swarthmore alum, who began coaching the Earthworms this year. Nye’s personal experience as an ultimate player has provided the team with a broadened perspective, especially in regard to teaching skills and finessing practice routines.
Beyond their four weekly practices, the team attends weekend tournaments, which typically last around six hours per day and often involve a commute. Given the rigorous time commitment expected of the Earthworms, members are disappointed that they are only able to receive one semester of PE credit for a full year of play. However, the team’s relationship with the athletics department has developed very positively this year, and changes are expected in the future.
The team’s leadership, along with that of other club sports, now has monthly meetings with Landry Kosmalski, the men’s head basketball coach and club sports coordinator, where the two parties discuss policies and work on improving communication between club sports and the athletics department. The Earthworms are also now able to schedule practices on the turf field and have increased access to the school’s trainers and IMPACT testing.
However, perhaps the most promising development between the ultimate team and the athletics department is the plan to create an ultimate-specific PE class. Though specific arrangements for this class are still in their conceptual stages, such a class would allow ultimate players to complete their PE requirement before they graduate and would improve the overall fitness of the team. While he admits that there is still room for improvement between club sports and the athletics department — notably in terms of scheduling practices and increasing the representation of other groups on campus like club soccer and squash, which are not officially club sports despite their numerous accomplishments and incredible dedication of their players — Corcoran is satisfied with the direction things are going.
“The transition this year – most notably the increase in communication – has been a positive one, and we look forward to seeing the athletics department and club sports leaders continue to improve student-athlete communications on campus,” Corcoran said.
Despite these struggles over PE credit, the camaraderie and competition that ultimate provides are the overarching seasons students choose to play the sport.
“Most people who play a sport would probably agree that their favorite part of playing is the team itself, and this certainly applies to ultimate. The team is full of universally incredible people, and everyone is really close to one another,” responded Teo Gelles ’16 when asked what his favorite part of being an Earthworm is.
The sport itself also fosters friendly competition, as it is based on a merit system where players call their own fouls instead of referees. The result of this system is a surprisingly jovial atmosphere, where players are highly competitive on the field, yet friendly with the competition on the sidelines. According to captain P.J. Trainor ’16, such sportsmanship and positivity is especially valued on the team.
“I love that when we play at tournaments, we’re a pleasant team to play. Everyone on the team is incredibly positive and really cares about maintaining a sportsmanlike demeanor, which is something you don’t always see in sports. Our guys respect the rules of the game, and negativity is highly discouraged. Even our new players have developed a report of positive feedback and encouragement, and I love being a part of that,” Trainor said.
Gelles agrees with his teammate, saying, “You have to be competitive in order to have fun and feel like you’ve done good work, but playing nice and with good sportsmanship is a key aspect of ultimate”
In spite of this emphasis on friendly play, the Earthworms are approaching playoffs with high expectations: specifically, they hope to place in the top half of teams in Regionals, which would be one of their best finishes in a very long time. The team expects to dominate all competition from here on out — but of course, they’ll do it kindly.